Plants Add Lasting Beauty and Soothe Grief

Black Eyed Susan

A brilliant harbinger of summer with a long lasting biannual bloom.

Many years ago word came that a dear friend had tragically died in Utah, over a thousand miles from our Iowa home.  With deep feelings of grief of the loss of a vibrant young woman I (Rich) felt the need to “do something for her.”

We were in the process of restoring prairie to a bare patch of ground on recently purchased piece of land at the Indian Creek Nature Center.  A bag of prairie wildflowers perched against my office wall caught my eye.  I grabbed the bag, walked to the meadow and scattered the seeds in the woman’s honor.

The seeds thrived.  Now, a dozen years later they grace the prairie with color and restore memories of my friend. We shared this story with our friend’s husband who was moved. So, we decided to share our way of honoring and memorializing ones dear to us.

Planting flowers, shrubs, and trees in a yard or park is an outstanding way to reduce grief, maintain memories, honor someone, and make our world healthier and more vibrant.

Royal Catch Fly

What a stunner!

Swallow Tail On Purple Cone

Sipping nectar

Purple Coneflowers

Purple Coneflowers add color to a prairie.

Prairie Ballerina

Periodically readers send lovely essays and observations of their Wondrous Yards.  Below is a poetic piece by Katrina Garner.

“One of the benefits of creating and maintaining burn barriers around prairie areas is that the resulting “pathways” provide the perfect opportunity to observe the prairies from all sides.  Every morning I head out with our Lab Schatzie for our long daily walk around the property, letting Schatzie choose our route.  Sometimes she startles a deer, and sometimes a turkey blasts out of the grasses right in front of us.  Schatzie holds on to the hope that one day she’ll actually catch one of the hundreds of rabbits who manage to stay just out of her reach.  Always there’s a chorus of bird songs, blending together like a pastoral symphony, to remind me to focus on nature’s sounds.

Prairie Ballerina

Capturing the essence of prairie blooms.

“I have my phone handy in case I see the perfect view for a future landscape painting.  One day this past week we were ending the walk along the path between our first prairie planting and the pollinator strip next to it.  The house was above us beyond the prairie.  Our farm is named “Himmelhof,” a phrase coined by a friend of ours as an approximate Austrian translation for “House in the Heavens.”  Seen from many points on the property, the house does seem to “float” above the prairie, and I’m particularly fond of those views of the house.  At this point in our walk, the coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans were plentiful and at their peak, so I took out my phone and framed my photo to capture the “floating house” with colorful flowers in the foreground.

“A few days later, going through the recent photos on a larger computer screen, I was startled to see what looked like a ballerina with her arms raised to the heavens and her face turned towards the sun.  If I wished to be pragmatic, I would acknowledge the fact that “she” was a cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum) just masquerading as a fairy ballerina.  However, the romantic in me chooses to see my prairie ballerina fairy as a joyful, whimsical reminder that I should always keep my mind and heart open to the beauty of the nature around me.

Katrina Garner, July, 2016″

Keep sharing about your lovely spaces, folks!  Thanks, Katrina.

Summer Reading

Take in some great summer reading! Cornelia (Connie) Mutel, Winding Pathway’s good friend, sent us her most recent book, A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland.

Her book weaves three themes together that encourage readers to enjoy woodlands and embrace actions to lessen climate change.

Connie is a gifted nature writer who transforms her observations into delightful prose that reminds us of Joseph Wood Krutch‘s style. Her book is a pleasant way to learn about and enjoy a woodland as it progresses through seasons and responds to weather.

As the title implies, she relates changes in her woods caused by climate change. Nature is neither politically correct nor untruthful. A knowledgeable observer, as the author is, recognizes alarming signals of a warming planet communicated by vegetation and wildlife but often unnoticed by those less informed.

Finally, she weaves her personal story into a blend of woodland delight and climate concern. She bemoans her reliance on fossil fuel to get to and from work and to run her air conditioner, expresses joy at sharing woodland hours with grandchildren, and relates her long term cancer relationship with earth health.

Sugar Creek Chronicle is a lovely book about a serious environmental threat. Perhaps its major virtue is how the author blends joy of nature’s beauty, concern about the planet’s future, and a love of life that encourages readers to lessen  the impact of climate change.
University of Iowa Press Bur Oak Series
ISBN: 978-1-60938-395-4

Marion’s all time favorite summer series is by Jean Craighead GeorgeMy Side of the Mountain, The Far Side of the Mountain, and Frightful’s Mountain.

Other good books to read this summer:
The Intelligent Optimist”s Gide to Life.  Jurriaan Kamp. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2014. ISBN: 978-1-62656-275-2

Places of Quiet Beauty: Parks, Preserves and Environmentalism. Rebecca Conrad. University of Iowa Press. ISBN: 0-87745-558-9

Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World. Johann Christoph Arnold. Plough Publishing House. ISBN: 978-0-87486-630-8

Secret Lives of Animals – A Winter Read

The Secret Lives of Animals

This great book is colorful, factual and encourages folks to “Go Outside!”

As kids growing up, we read books our classmates would have considered weird. They were field guides to birds, mammals, fish, wildflowers, rocks and the weather. Color plates of animals, trees and all sorts of other living things fascinated us. Range maps taught geography, and the text good writing.

With the rapid growth of apps to help identify many objects of nature, field guides may be slipping from winter reading lists, but there is one new book that any nature lover should have handy.

The Secret Lives of Animals includes 1001 tidbits, oddities and facts about North America’s wild animals. It’s not a book to read cover to cover. It is one to pick up when there are a few spare minutes for learning and enjoyment. There’s learning on every page. We see two audiences who will enjoy having this book close by.

Kids and adolescents:  With colorful illustrations and loads of facts presented in succinct form it’s a fascinating book for youngsters. We would have loved to have had this book by our bedside when we were young to glean wildlife snippets in moments before sleep.

Adults:   The book is studded with interesting facts and makes a good one minute or three hour read. Any trivia lover will enjoy it as well as people who delight in wildlife.

Our favorite part of the book appears frequently and is called GO OUTSIDE. Going outside and enjoying nature is what we advocate at Winding Pathways and The Secret Lives of Animals gives readers something new to look for outdoors and then encourages them to put the book down, pull on the boots and go explore outside.

THE SECRET LIVES OF ANIMALS-1001 Tidbits, Oddities, & Amazing Facts About America’s Coolest Animals, by Stacy Torino and Ken Keffer with illustrations by Rachel Riordan.   FalconGuides.  ISBN 978-1-4930-1191-9.

Wondrous Trail Encounter

A couple of times each week I walk the nearly two mile circumference trail around Cedar Rapids’ Cedar Lake. It’s a great way to get exercise and watch a diversity of wildlife in the downtown area.

On Sunday, December 13, 2015 a near magical encounter occurred. Heavy rain was predicted for the afternoon so I planned my walk for late morning. Light drizzle was falling as I approached a parking lot surprisingly full on such a gloomy day. A woman was putting snacks and beverages on a picnic table. When I asked her if she was planning a winter picnic she replied, “Nope, you’ll see a bunch of runners on the trail. We’re raising money for a friend who has leukemia. He has limited health insurance and is having trouble paying medical bills. He’s not able to work and has two young children.”

Although she didn’t ask for a contribution, I handed her ten bucks and began a counter clockwise walk around the lake, just as a knot of runners was just finishing their first clockwise circuit and were enjoying snacks. They again set off running and soon I began meeting them on the trail.

The word was out. All had heard that a stranger in a blue raincoat had given $10. Every runner I passed smiled and said, “Thanks.” One woman stopped me and said, “Thanks for helping my brother.”  Then, an older man stopped and said, “I want to shake your hand. You helped my son!”

Later in the day I thought how fortunate I was to have been able to give a tiny gift to help a man I didn’t know and be thanked by so many dedicated people. What a wonderful Christmas gift they were giving a dear friend of theirs and me, a stranger. Rich


Winding Pathways usually blogs about wondrous happenings in backyards. It’s normally rural news about plants, wildlife and weather. Here’s a change from the Big Apple, America’s largest city.

In the midst of rush hour on November 10, on my way back to Iowa after a difficult visit,  I, (Rich) took a bus from New Jersey to New York’s Port Authority. When the driver opened the door bus occupants flowed into a river of humanity snaking its way through the monstrous terminal-along corridors, down escalators and through more corridors, until finally we were outside by the New York Times Building.

Needing to find the shuttle to LaGuardia Airport I went to where I thought it would be. No luck.  No shuttle. Rather frazzled and running short on time I found a young policeman and asked where the Airport shuttle was. He said, “You look tired. Just follow me”. He delivered me to the shuttle ticket guy.

Then something truly “New York” happened. After buying a ticket and getting seated on the shuttle the driver entered. He was a tiny Asian man who looked to be about 15 years old but certainly was older.  I’d be surprised if he weighed 100 pounds and he spoke no English. A blond woman sitting near me also spoke no English. She may have been Scandinavian and could not find the proper ticket in her purse. She and the driver were not able to communicate, so the young driver exited and soon came back with a bus employee with a deep Southern accent who was about three times his size. She politely pointed to the proper ticket nestled with many others in the European woman’s purse.

Everyone smiled as the passenger handed her ticket to the driver. We were soon off to LaGuardia Airport with the young driver ably worming the bus through Manhattan’s snarly traffic.

Three people. None shared a common language.  All wanted a positive outcome…….and that happened. It was wondrous.